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Cell Motil Cytoskeleton. 1988;9(2):101-10.

Motility of the spirochete Leptospira.

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Department of Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul.


Spirochetes are a group of bacteria with a unique ultrastructure and a fascinating swimming behavior. This article reviews the hydrodynamics of spirochete motility, and examines the motility of the spirochete Leptospira in detail. Models of Leptospira motility are discussed, and future experiments are proposed. The outermost structure of Leptospira is a membrane sheath, and within this sheath are a helically shaped cell cylinder and two periplasmic flagella. One periplasmic flagellum is attached subterminally at either end of the cell cylinder and extends partway down the length of the cell. In swimming cells, each end of the cell may assume either a spiral or a hook shape. Translational cells have the anterior end spiral shaped, and the posterior end hook shaped. In the model of Berg et al., the periplasmic flagella are believed to rotate between the sheath and the cell cylinder. Rotation of the anterior periplasmic flagellum causes the generation of a gyrating spiral-shaped wave. This wave is believed sufficient to propel the cells forward in a low-viscosity medium. The cell cylinder concomitantly rolls around the periplasmic flagella in the opposite direction--which allows the cell to literally screw through a gel-like viscous medium without slippage. This model is presented, and it is contrasted to previous models of Leptospira motility.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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